You have to feel for a lot of smaller developers. Imagine playing a game like Zelda or Metroid and wanting to make another game in the series. Of course, the big boys aren’t going to let you do that, so in most instances you have to make your own idea instead. This is the story of how a little developer called Renegade Kid refused to play by the rules and made an early contender for DS game of the year.
It’s apparent after playing Moon that Renegade Kid really liked Metroid Prime. Of course, Nintendo isn’t going to let just anyone make a Metroid game. Renegade Kid decided to make one anyway, and the results are excellent. It isn’t perfect, but it does a lot right.
Many have commented on how shocking it is that there is now a first-person shooter on the Nintendo DS that runs at 60 frames per second. It is indeed surprising, but what else is surprising is how atmospheric it looks.
The best way that I can describe the graphics is “Metroid Prime by way of the Build engine,” if that means anything to you. If that doesn’t mean anything, just know this: straight looking corridors, angular shapes, and simple-looking enemies. Renegade Kid didn’t load up the DS with all the effects they could muster. Instead, they stuck to exactly what the DS can do, and the results are very impressive.
I’m a stickler for music and sound. All four of you who read my reviews should know this (and yes, I’m including my mother in that number), so it should be no surprise that I didn’t like the sound in Moon. I thought it was repetitive. You want an example? Here, just say this out loud:
“Bwaaaaaaaaoooooo ticka-ticka-ticka bwoooooooouuu ticka-ticka-ticka”
Now repeat that for a while and you’ll get a feel for what I thought of the music. Not only that, but when you move from room to room, the track changes as well. Sometimes it changes to the exact same music. Sometimes it changes to a track that sounds almost exactly the same but not quite. It’s not bad for most people, but I was not impressed. The other sounds fare much better though, and are sharp and crisp.
It’s been hard to find the ideal setup for FPS games on the DS. If you have people reaching over the screen for different buttons, you lose the immersion factor, which ruins the idea behind FPS games. Moon handles this by only using the buttons on one side of the screen. In other words, you will be using the stylus to aim and select your weapons, the D-pad to move, and the L button to shoot. For our southpaw readers, it’s flipped. When you can interact with something on screen, an icon lights up that you can tap. There’s no jump button, no other buttons to worry about. It’s elegantly simplistic.
“But, but, what about other things to do?” I hear some sputtering. “What about alt-fire and grenade throwing and rocket jumping? How do I use my melee weapon?”
You don’t need to. Moon does an excellent job of never making you feel like you need more controls. For things that you can’t access, you can send out your Remote Access Droid, a tiny little robot that can zoom around and get into places that you can’t. This is snappy and responsive as well.
The control really made this game for me. The only problem is sometimes you’ll be near a door and the icon to open the door won’t light up. You have to move a little over, and then the icon will start up. It’s really not a big deal, and it’s the only complaint I have.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: You’re a space marine, and there’s shenanigans where aliens might be involved, so you pick up a gun and start killing them. Yes, that’s the basic blueprint of the plot of Moon, but it does take a few more twists and turns than that. In other words, even though there’s some cool stuff in the plot, it won’t draw you in as much the excellent control and interesting level design will.
You also have a remote access droid which is sometimes used to navigate large sections of this level design. For example, in some sections the droid is able to get into smaller tunnels which in turn lead to switches that can turn off forcefields temporarily, giving the player character a few brief seconds to get through the force field where it can turn off the field permanently. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of Metroid’s morph ball without the confusing question of “How can a full-grown woman squeeze into a tiny metal ball?”
Is that to say that everything in Moon is sunshine and lollipops? Well, no. While the alien architecture does look great, it starts to get a little repetitive after a while. Every room does start boiling down to “explore the room, kill the enemies, and find a way to open the door to the next room.” The boss fights are good, but have simple patterns to defeat them. Still, considering that this is a DS game, the fact that there are vehicle sections and miniature robots and halfway decent AI is an impressive feat.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Moon has that “it” quality. It doesn’t do any more than it should, and it doesn’t rewrite all the rules of FPS gaming as we know it, but what it does it does admirably. It also provides developers for a template as to what they could be doing with FPS games on the DS.